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Philippe Assouline: From al Durah to Badawi: Lethal journalism and Palestinian Propaganda’s Manufacturing of Consent

Philippe Assouline: From al Durah to Badawi: Lethal journalism and Palestinian Propaganda’s Manufacturing of Consent

This is a cross-post from The Huffington Post.

 

It was a defining image of the last conflagration in Gaza. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh and Egyptian prime minister Hashim Kandil held up a Palestinian child’s corpse to the cameras, his face bloodied, his lifeless eyes a compelling entreaty to the world: “Will you not stand against Israel for killing this child!?”

 

But it wasn’t Israel that murdered 4-year-old Mohammed Sadallah, it appears to have been Hamas. In a grotesque irony, one of the thousands of rockets Hamas had aimed at Israeli children reportedly landed on the 4-year-old Gazan boy instead. The Islamist group thought nothing of turning the child into a PR weapon — and the international press obliged. That same week, Palestinian activists repeatedly tried to pass off photos of dead Arab children as Israel’s doing. The photos were in fact of Syrian children massacred weeks earlier by Bashar Assad. And this month, following unprecedented public criticism, the UN fired Kulhood Badawi, one of its senior public affairs officers in Jerusalem. Badawi had tried to peddle a photo of a girl killed in an accident in 2006 as a victim of Israel. These activists, Badawi and Hamas — whose minister boasted in 2009 of its use of “human shields of the women, the children… to challenge the Zionist bombing machine” — assumed that the international press would simply take them at their word, as it had always done.

 

Bloggers exposed their lies, but the damage had been done. And the damage when journalists help certain Palestinian activists abuse public compassion to demonize Israel is counted in lives lost — on both sides.

 

In the war for hearts and minds, some propagandists for the Palestinian cause understood long ago that feelings trump facts. Images and accusations that molest the emotions and exploit the public’s natural empathy are irreplaceable ammunition to coerce sympathy with the Palestinians and hostility to Israel. Yasser Arafat himself in January 2002 — two days before his own Fatah organization murdered six guests at a Bat Mitzvah celebration in Israel — cynically underlined the value of dead Palestinian children as propaganda tools: “the Palestinian child holding a stone, facing a tank – is that not the greatest message to the world, when that hero becomes a ‘martyr’?”

 

When Arafat spoke those words, he was thinking of the heart-wrenching images of the death of Mohammed Al Durah. That 50-second clip, filmed and distributed globally by France 2 in September 2000, shows a boy and his father caught in crossfire, crouching fearfully behind a concrete cylinder in Gaza. Some arresting moments later, the picture jumps, final shots ring out, and a cloud of dust dissipates to reveal the boy strewn lifeless at his father’s feet. France 2’s reporter, Charles Enderlin, narrating the scene though he did not witness it, decrees to the world that the boy and his father were “the targets of Israeli fire.”

 

Enderlin’s report went viral and was instrumental in fueling the Second Intifada. Within days, an enraged mob in Ramallah shouted “revenge for the blood of Muhammad al Durah” as they dismembered two lost Israelis. A deluge of Palestinian suicide bombers often claimed the same motive before murdering hundreds of Israeli civilians in horrific attacks on restaurants, schools, buses and malls. Al Qaeda used al Durah as a major recruiting theme, and jihadists beheaded Daniel Pearl in 2002 with al Durah’s picture behind them. In the West, Enderlin’s report irreversibly indicted Israel and provided moral cover for Palestinian groups’ terror attacks; many went so far as to equate Israel with Nazi Germany. Twelve years on, is it any wonder that Mohammed Merah gunned down Jewish school children in Toulouse to avenge the killing of “Palestinian children” by Israelis? Assisted by the mainstream news media, one child’s death has become a global license to kill Jews, westerners, and their children.

 

But it wasn’t Israel that shot Mohammed Al Durah.

 

Critics rapidly exposed the yawning gaps in Enderlin’s report: Al Durah was said to have died of blood loss but the footage shows no blood; the picture of his body in a Gaza morgue was shown to be that of another boy; the wounds that his father said he sustained from Israeli fire were from a stabbing, years prior. Most damning, from their position, the Israelis simply could not have hit Al Durah that day.

 

Ironically, one of the activists working tirelessly to unearth the truth, Philippe Karsenty, was charged with defamation for publicly questioning the credibility of Enderlin’s work. But when the French court ordered France 2 to produce the unedited reels used by Enderlin in his report, things rapidly unraveled for the accusers. In the footage, after Enderlin had declared Al Durah dead, the boy miraculously moves his body, lifts his arm and looks out. Instead of gun battles, the footage showed Palestinian participants faking injuries, staging and choreographing “battle” scenes in full view of dozens of reporters from leading news agencies — all as children wander in front of the Israeli position, unperturbed. The Al Durah story — the trigger for an explosion of violence and suffering — was a lie. “You know, it’s always like that” and “oh, they do that all the time,” France 2 officials and Enderlin are reported to have said when confronted with the staged “news”.

 

Badawi’s firing last week should not cause false hope. France 2 and Enderlin are unrepentant, and the French media establishment is closing ranks behind them. The dearth of stories on this affair indicates that they may be successful in shielding Enderlin — and their profession — from accountability.

 

The international press should rather ask itself what the cost of its collusion in a propaganda campaign of calumny is. Is peace advanced by allowing for those Palestinian groups who target and use children to artificially focus world ire on Israel instead? Why is the media creating an incentive for Fatah, Hamas and others to put children in harm’s way while cameras roll? And, no less important, how many innocents continue to die because of sloppy journalism on the Arab-Israeli conflict?

 

Talal Abu Rahmeh, the Palestinian cameraman who shot Al Durah’s death, said to a Moroccan paper in 2001 that he went into journalism to fight for the Palestinian people. Those words — a stinging rebuke of the international press’ lack of diligence with respect to its Palestinian stringers — are eerily reminiscent of Hamas’ charter: “Jihad is not confined to the carrying of arms and the confrontation of the enemy. The effective word, the good article… are elements of the Jihad.” How much longer will the international press serve as an accessory to mediatic jihad?

 

*More information is available at www.aldurah.com and www.theaugeanstables.com.

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News Coverage of the Mohammed Al-Durah Affair

Below you will find listed selected news coverage of the Al-Durah affair:

News Coverage of the Mohammed Al-Durah Affair: a Chronology

September 30, 2000: 

Netzarim: near to Magen 3, an Israeli military outpost in The Gaza Strip, Jamal Al-Durah and his son, Mohammed, seek cover from gunfire and are shot, allegedly by Israelis; the son is killed and the father receives several gun wounds before he is evacuated to a hospital.

The scene is videoed by Talal Abu Rahma, a freelance cameraman working for France 2, a major French news network.

Charles Enderlin, Jerusalem bureau chief for France 2, declares the boy killed by Israeli fire, and all major news networks pick up the line. Enderlin and France 2 distribute the 55-second footage to all the networks free of charge.

September 30th

The Associated Press reports on the story, alleging that a Palestinian ambulance driver was killed attempting to evacuate the father and son.

October 1, 2000:

Talal Abu Rahma is interviewed on National Public Radio program All Things Considered. Host Jacki Lyden asks him to recount his version of the shooting.

October 2, 2000
Robert Fisk, editor of British newspaper ‘The Independent’, writes an article titled ‘Where caught in the crossfire can leave no room for doubt,’ about the press’s cowardice in its reluctance to implicate Israel in the killing of Al-Durah.

October 2 2000

The BBC reports on the incident, repeating Fisk’s claims that the boy was killed by Israeli fire. For a ‘Fisking’ of the original BBC report and the subsequent unravelling of the narrative, see this link.

October 3rd, 2000

The Guardian’s Suzanne Goldberg publishes her account of the debate surrounding the incident. Talal Abu Rahma is interviewed, and argues that: ‘They (the Israelis) were aiming at the boy, and that is what surprised me, yes, because they were shooting at him, not only one time, but many times’.

For a ‘Fisking’ of this Guardian article, see this article by Adam Levick.

The Associated Press reports on the story, under the headline ‘Israeli Army Blamed for Boy’s Death’.

October 4, 2000

Le Monde and the Los Angeles Times report that Israeli Defense Forces major general Moshe Ya’alon admitted the possibility that one of his soldiers could have potentially mistaken the boy and his father for gunmen, and thus fired in their direction.

October 6 2000

In an emotive Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, Basil and Riad Abdelkarim describe the alleged shooting of Mohammed Al-Durah, arguing that: ‘rarely has the face of human tragedy been captured with such poignancy and raw emotion’.

October 8, 2000

An editorial published in the Boston Globe ( and since reprinted elsewhere ) by Israeli writer Helen Schary Motro describes a personal relationship with Jamal Al-Durah, and paints a very different portrait of the man from that which can be gleaned from his other statements.

October 10, 2000

An article in Paris daily Le Monde discusses the losing battle Israel is waging in the war of images, largely a result of their ‘murder’ of Al-Durah.

October 12, 2000

Le Monde discusses the most poignant images of the Intifada thus far, with that of al-Durah ranking at the top.

October 16, 2000

People Weekly runs a brief article about the Mohammed Al-Durah tragedy titled ‘No Way Out: The death of a terrified Palestinian child, caught in a crossfire, shocks even a world accustomed to carnage.’

The Telegraph (UK) describes the determination of Palestinians at the outset of the Intifada. The article is called, ‘We’ll buy freedom with our blood, warn Gaza’s children.’

December 25, 2000

Time Magazine Europe names Mohammed al-Durah a ‘Newsmaker for 2000’.

January 11, 2001

The Mirror (UK) interviews Jamal al-Durah in a very moving piece about the shooting.

January 17, 2001

Talal Abu Rahma is awarded ‘Le Prix de la Communication Culturelle Nord-Sud,’ though he is forced to share the prize with ‘all of the children of the Intifada.’

September 30, 2001

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs publishes an article, ‘Death of a Palestinian Child’ in its August/September issue, in which proof is offered that Israel was the culprit in Al-Durah’s death.

December 22, 2001

NPR’s On the Media devotes a program to ‘The Images of Mohammed al-Durah,’ in which Charles Enderlin, Jamal al-Durah, and Talal Abu Rahma are interviewed. Enderlin claims that ‘the sad story of Mohammed Al-Durah belongs to the sad reality of this region,’ while Abu Rahma pledges proud loyalty to his nation—journalism. 

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Israeli Reactions to the Al-Durah Affair

Israeli Reactions to the Al-Durah Affair: a Chronology of Events

September 30, 2000:

Netzarim – near to Magen 3, an Israeli military outpost in The Gaza Strip, Jamal Al-Durah and his son, Mohammed, seek cover from gunfire and are shot, allegedly by Israelis; the son is killed and the father receives several gun wounds before he is evacuated to a hospital.

October 1, 2000

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Southern Command general Yom Tov Samia first denies fault in the boy’s death, pending an investigation.

October 3, 2000

Following a hasty preliminary investigation and in contradiction of Samia’s earlier claims, Israeli chief of army operations Giora Eiland claims responsibility for and regret over al-Durah’s death, stating that ‘the shots were apparently fired by Israeli soldiers’.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon comments on the Al-Durah incident, calling it ‘a real tragedy’, whilst IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon describes the footage as ‘heartrending’.

October 7, 2000

The IDF destroy the wall behind which were hiding Jamal and Mohammed Al-Durah, thereby relegating all future investigations of the incident to the realm of simulation.

October 23, 2000

Physicist Nahum Shahaf and engineer Yosef Doriel lead a re-enactment of the scene under the auspices of Yom Tov Samia. The analysis raises serious doubts about Israel’s culpability.

November 7, 2000

Anat Cygielman, writing in Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, publishes a damning report on the inquiry headed by Nahum Shahaf and Yosef Doriel, calling the investigation amateurish.

November 8th, 2000

IDF Chief of General Staff, Shaul Mofaz, distances the IDF from Samia’s investigation, claiming it was not officially sanctioned.

November 10, 2000

The editorial board of Ha’aretz harshly criticizes the ongoing IDF investigation in an article entitled ‘Stupidity Marches On.’

November 27, 2000

Samia’s commission of inquiry releases the findings of its investigation, alleging that the probability of Israeli bullets hitting the child is low.

Writing in 2008, Daniel Seaman, director of the Israeli Government Press Office, claims that the publication of Samia’s report demonstrated that ‘there was no basis for the accusations levelled against Israel in the France 2 story’.

July 15, 2002

Amnon Lord, Israeli journalist and author publishes ‘Who killed Mohamed al-Dura? Blood Libel—Model 2000’ , arguing that indeed the event was staged.

April 20, 2005

In a reversal of previous official Israeli claims, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon claims Al-Durah ‘One hundred percent was not hit by IDF gunfire. He was apparently shot by a Palestinian police officer’, whilst Eiland retracted his previous claims that the boy was killed by Israeli soldiers.

October 7th, 2007

Writing in Ha’aretz, Gideon Levy charges that the debate regarding the reliability of the Al-Durah footage is irrelevant, because Israel has killed many other Palestinian children.

June 5th, 2008

Daniel Seaman, director of the Israeli Government Press Office, hints that the official Israeli response to the Al-Durah affair was muddled, because ‘Israeli officials for public diplomacy failed to convene to determine an official position (on the alleged killing)’.

January 24th, 2010

Ha’aretz writer Reuven Pedatzur publishes an article attacking the Israeli government’s inability to challenge the Palestinian claim that the IDF killed Al-Durah, arguing that the affair represents yet another instance where ‘Israel relinquishes the media front to the Palestinians, who are taking advantage of it with sophistication’.

October 21, 2010

The Israeli Prime Minister’s office issues an official statement declaring that ‘it was not right to impose on the IDF and the State of Israel responsibility for the Muhammad Al Dura episode.’

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Reactions to the Al-Durah Affair in the Muslim World

Reactions to the Al-Durah Affair in the Muslim World

Highlighting the Impact of the Al-Durah Incident

• Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a moderate Arab leader who was attempting to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, expressed publically his outrage at the Al-Durah incident, stating: ‘A child who died in the lap of his father, this really makes one loses his senses….this makes rocks have feelings.’

 

• One of the main streets running through the center of Baghdad, Iraq, was officially renamed ‘The Martyr Mohammed Al-Durah Street’. Egypt under Mubarak also renamed the street in front of the Israeli embassy to honor Al-Durah. A park in Morocco was named ‘Al-Durah Park’.

 

• The day after the Mohammed Al-Durah incident, Radio Islam- a virulently anti-Semitic Islamist website- published an article arguing that the death of Al-Durah demonstrates that ‘to the Jews, peace = Palestinian death!’

 

• Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, saw a five-hour demonstration nearly two months after the incident, where thousands of demonstrators were filmed shouting ‘No peace, no normalization of ties (with Israel)…the blood of Mohammed Al-Durah will not be in vain!’ The demonstrators utilized the ‘martyrdom’ of Al-Durah as a rallying cry to denounce an upcoming Arab League summit aimed at discussing the upsurge in violence throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

 

• The Arab League meeting subsequently dedicated October 1st as ‘the day of Arab children’, in honor of Mohammed Al-Durah.

 

• A report by the Associated Press in October 2000 which covered a rise in violent anti-Israel protests across the Arab and Muslim world, claimed that ‘Mohammed al-Dura, the 12-year-old whose killing in the Gaza Strip was captured on camera, has become a symbol of the conflict for Arabs around the world’.

 

• In October 2000, Jamal Al-Durah, Mohammed Al-Durah’s father, expressed hope that ‘I hope the world won’t forget Mohammed and will avenge his killing by Israel’.

 

• In October, two Israeli Defense Force reservists who accidentally travelled to the Palestinian city of Ramallah were lynched and killed by a mob screaming ‘revenge for the blood of Mohammad Al-Durah’.

 

• Demonstrators fused anger at the Al-Durah incident with anti-American sentiment: whilst chanting ‘death to America’, 6000 Iranian demonstrators marched through Tehran in November, 2000 distributing leaflets graphically depicting the Al-Durah incident.

 

• Less than two months after the incident, Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish published the ‘Poem for Mohammed Al-Durrah’.

 

• Sheikh Mohammed, the crown Prince of Dubai, composed a poem in honor of Mohammed Al-Durah.

 

• By the end of December 2000, over 150 schools in Iran were named after Mohammed Al-Durah.

 

• Barely one month after the Al-Durah incident, Hezbollah, a violent Lebanese-based terrorist organization, kidnapped three Israeli soldiers, justifying the operation as revenge for the ‘martyrdom’ of Al-Durah. All three soldiers were killed.

 

• In September, 2001, an Israeli-Arab recruited by Hamas committed a suicide bombing at a train station in Israel, killing three innocent commuters. The bomber cited the Al-Durah incident as the primary motivation for this act.

 

• Following the September 11th attacks, Osama Bin Laden released a video justifying the attacks on New York as retaliation for the Al-Durah killing, employing the boy’s image twelve times in the propaganda piece.

 

• In February 2002, Jewish-American journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded on video by Jihadists in Pakistan, who utilized a picture of Mohammed Al-Dura in the backdrop of the video.